Cancer Care at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals  

The Sprecher Institute for Comparative Cancer Research


Palliative Treatment

Happy DogSome cancers may not be possible to control for long periods. The reason for this could be advanced stage of the tumor, difficulty in surgical resection due to the site of the tumor or insensitivity to curative chemotherapy or radiation therapy protocols. In these circumstances, the control of symptoms may improve the quality of life of the patient. Quality of life is the paramount concern for all pets with cancer but in some instances, the long term benefits may not offset the costs and risks of treatment. In such cases, pain management and control of vital functions becomes the focus of cancer treatment and new developments have significantly improved the quality of life for these patients. Increased use of pain medications (oral and transdermal), radiation therapy used only to reduce pain and symptoms, and surgery or chemotherapy to attempt to reduce tumor volumes in critical sites such as bladder, bowel or oral cavity should be considered carefully.

The type of palliative treatment that is most appropriate oftens depends on the site of the tumor and the availability of treatment options. For tumors that involve bone and cannot be removed, palliative radiation should be considered. Surgical reduction of a mass that is infected, bleeding or obstructing a vital function may control these symptoms temporarily. Likewise, control of symptoms from cancer in the abdomen or thorax may require chemotherapy.

It is important to remember that if a particular treatment does not seem to be help it can be discontinued or altered. The only concern is the patient's pain control or symptom relief.